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FROM FIXER TO FLIPPER?

Trump’s Ex-Attorney Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty

He has been under investigation for his business dealings, including arranging hush-money deals for the president’s mistresses during the election.

President Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of bank fraud, tax evasion, and campaign-finance law violations.

The guilty plea came as part of a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which was investigating Cohen for the past four months. The probe has focused on Cohen’s business dealings, but also touched on pre-election payoffs to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump years ago.

Two hours after surrendering at FBI headquarters in New York, Cohen walked into a lower Manhattan courtroom not handcuffed, wearing a yellow tie, white shirt, and dark suit. Prosecutors were seated at a table, waiting for him to arrive.

When asked “how are you?” Cohen nodded with a dour expression. Cohen let out a loud sigh as he reviewed and signed paperwork. Cohen stood attentively with his hands crossed as Judge William Pauley let Cohen know about his rights. Pauley grilled Cohen on his competence and asked whether he had drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours.

“Yes, your honor. Last night at dinner I had a glass of Glenlivet 12 on the rocks,” he said to some laughter.  

The downfall of Trump’s longtime lawyer was set in motion April 9 by an FBI raid on his home, office and hotel room. The raid was reportedly authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a target of Trump’s frequent ire over the Russia investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in court filings at the time that it was investigating “Cohen’s personal business dealings and finances.” Prosecutors eyed Cohen for months, reportedly over possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign-finance violations.

Search warrants reportedly sought information on $20 million in loans Cohen took out from two banks that deal with the taxi industry, which Cohen was a part of through his ownership of medallions that authorize cabs in New York.

The warrants also sought information on Cohen’s role in muzzling at least two women who allegedly had extramarital affairs with Trump: Stormy Daniels, who claimed she bedded the now-president at a Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she dated Trump throughout 2006 and 2007.

Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement with Trump and Cohen days before the election in exchange for $130,000, while McDougal’s story was bought, then buried, by the Trump-friendly publisher of the National Enquirer. Both women filed lawsuits asking to be released from these contracts. McDougal has settled and stepped out of the spotlight, but Daniels’ case is on hold pending the outcome of the Cohen probe.

Daniels’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, celebrated Cohen’s imminent guilty plea on Twitter.

Hours after the FBI came knocking, President Trump called the raid a “disgraceful situation” and “an attack on our country.” Cohen was famously Trump’s most-dependable bulldog, saying he would “do anything” to protect him, even to “take a bullet.”

Weeks after the raid though, their relationship — said to have been frosty since Trump became president and reportedly spurned Cohen for a West Wing job — turned to ice.

In June, CNN reported Cohen claimed that Trump has prior knowledge of the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. In response, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Cohen had “lied all his life.”  

Days later, in Cohen’s first and only interview since the raid, Trump’s former fixer said his family “have my first loyalty and always will.”

“I put family and country first,” he told Good Morning America’s George Stephanopoulos.

Days after the FBI search, Cohen, 52, lawyered up and sought a temporary restraining order in Manhattan federal court, asking that his legal team inspect the materials for attorney-client privilege before handing them to prosecutors.

On April 26, U.S. District judge Kimba Wood appointed a former colleague, Barbara Jones, as  the “special master,” or independent party, tasked with reviewing the seized paper and electronic items for privilege.

Federal agents confiscated over 3.7 million files, and a review of the documents came to an end on Monday. Judge Wood on Tuesday accepted Jones’ finding that “7,146 of those items are privileged, eight are partially privileged, and 285 are highly personal.” None of those items may be supplied to the government as part of its investigation, Wood ruled.

After the raid, Cohen then hired two new lawyers, one to deal with feds and one to deal with Trump: Guy Petrillo, former chief of SDNY’s criminal division and an experienced trial lawyer; Lanny Davis, a lawyer “best known as a high-profile spinner for Bill and Hillary Clinton,” as The New York Times put it.

Davis took on Trump’s own lawyer, Giuliani, in a fight that played out on TV in July.

That month, Davis released one of several tapes Cohen is said to have made of Trump when they two worked together at the Trump organization. On the tape, Trump and Cohen apparently discuss how to pay off McDougal.

"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said, likely referencing AMI owner David Pecker. When Cohen tells Trump about financing, Trump said “pay with cash.”

Giuliani said Trump never paid any money towards the McDougal catch and kill.

Prosecutors have 12 audio tapes made by Cohen, CNN reported last month.

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